The Cardinals (now 4-3) raked their way to their fourth win in 11 Busch Stadium III home openers yesterday thanks to a stout offensive attack propelled by Jeremy Hazelbaker and Aledmys Diaz, two rookies, both persevering through unique, while very different, routes to the big leagues. Managing editor Craig Edwards detailed Hazelbaker's journey earlier this morning, and by now, we should all be familiar with Diaz's defection from Cuba to Mexico, before eventually signing a four-year deal with the Cardinals.
What is most intriguing about the stories of Hazelbaker and Diaz is that neither player was supposed to break camp on the 25-man roster. If all had gone as planned (as it almost never does in baseball), both would still be manning their respective positions down with Triple-A Memphis. However, when Jhonny Peralta went down with a Yadier Molina-like thumb injury and freshly-signed $1.5 million replacement Ruben Tejada pulled up with a quadriceps strain, a path was cleared for Hazelbaker, one of the team's top spring performers, to make the opening day roster, and he has played in every game since. When injury-susceptible Tommy Pham was removed from the Opening Day lineup after one plate appearance against the Pirates (and subsequently placed on the 15-day disabled list), Diaz received his call to the big leagues as well, again much sooner than anyone could have reasonably projected.
Below is how both players have performed up to this point:
First, small sample sizes are especially fun when the players in question have enjoyed success. Second, neither Hazelbaker nor Diaz will keep up such a torrid pace (yet, for perspective, remember back to 2004 when 39-year-old Barry Bonds posted an incredible 1.422 OPS). "Books" are still being created by opposing teams on Hazelbaker and Diaz. Of the 77 pitches Hazelbaker has faced in 2016 (not including yesterday's game at the time of publishing), 49 of them (~64%) have been of the fastball variety. For Diaz (again, not including yesterday), the approach has been largely the same as 26 of his first 41 pitches (~63%) seen have been fastballs.
That being said, there really is no need to be negative about what the future holds for both Hazelbaker and Diaz. Both players could easily end up being nothing more than a "cool story, bro," but at present, neither player is blocking someone else from playing time. At the same time, I do understand that Hazelbaker has started over Grichuk in two of the first seven games, but given the unpredictability of both Brandon Moss and Matt Adams, I envision a lot of lineups with Hazelbaker and Grichuk in the outfield and Matt Holliday at first in the near future.
On the injury front, Peralta, who has experienced positive developments over the past few days, is still a ways off before returning to live action. Tejada, who may return to some form of game action by the end of this week, will eventually be made available to the big league roster, but given Diaz's current performance and the Cardinals' relative misfortune with quad strains, there is no need to rush him back. Jedd Gyorko, while valuable in an infield platoon role, is simply not an everyday shortstop. The final question mark is Pham, who could begin a rehab assignment by the end of next week. Thus, as you can see, the 2016 Cardinals' 25-man roster, as it is currently constructed, is what it will be for at least the next two weeks.
Long story short, simply enjoy the present success of Hazelbaker and Diaz. Both have been through a whole lot in order to finally realize their dream. Without their performances over the last few games, the Cardinals may still be slumping out of the starting gates, and as I have said so many times, a win in April is worth the same as a win in August or September. As their "books" grow, they'll understandably deal with some growing pains at the plate, and that's okay because all they are being asked to do is bridge the gap from now until the regulars are healthy again. If you get too hung up in the fact that there is no way either player will be able to sustain this success (even if this is 100% truth), you just may miss a "cool story." I don't ever recommend missing a cool story.